Five Minimal Facts Part II: The Disciples

Written by Victor Stanley Jr.

The Christian faith receives a great deal of criticism from the secular world on its claims of Jesus being God, and the savior of the world. While many agree that he was a ‘good’ teacher who died for his beliefs, they deny that he resurrected and is indeed the one true God. Dr. Gary Habermas, who is a leading theologian, apologist, and philosopher specializing in the historical Jesus, offers what he calls the “Minimal Facts approach to a critical study of the resurrection of Jesus.”[1]

These five minimal facts are used to establish the resurrection of Jesus as historical fact, and are as follows: Jesus died by crucifixion; Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them; The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed; The skeptic James, brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed; and the tomb was empty. I will briefly explore each of these five points.[i]

The second fact is the belief, and belief unto death, that Jesus’ disciples had in the resurrection. While whether or not Jesus actually raised himself from the dead is a point that can be argued, the fact that his disciples believed he was raised and appeared to them is not. The New Testament consists of the writings of Jesus’ brothers—James and Jude—three of his disciples—Peter, John, and Matthew—the Apostle Paul, and Mark and Luke who wrote from firsthand accounts handed down to them from the disciples and others. These writings clearly establish the fact that these men, as well as numerous women, all believed that not only had Jesus rose from the dead, but that he had appeared to them in the flesh after his death. Several passages of scripture state this explicitly with the key scripture being 1 Corinthians 15:3-8:

“[3] For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, [4] that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, [5] and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. [6] Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. [7] Then he appeared to James [brother of Jesus], then to all the apostles. [8] Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”[2]

Other passages that speak of Jesus post resurrection appearances include: Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36; John 20:19; John 20:26; Acts 1:3; and Acts 10:41. The point is that these men sincerely believed that Jesus was alive, and that they had spent time, ate, drank, and prayed with him. They could be written off as crazy, but there is no evidence to support such assertions, especially considering that they were able to travel throughout the Roman Empire establishing churches and governing them while writing what would become the New Testament. They could be called liars, but most liars will only carry a lie so far, and gruesome tortuous death is farther than most liars would go to support a lie.

We must also look at the fact that when Jesus was arrested the disciples all went into hiding, and when he was killed they continued to stay hidden in fear of their lives. Yet for some reason they all radically changed and came out of hiding, proclaiming what they called the gospel far and wide. Greek writer and rhetorician Lucian (circa A.D. 120 – after A.D. 180) could not stand the boldness and what he called a “contempt of death” that the Christians had.

“The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. . . . You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property” (my emphasis).[3]

To go from fear of death and hiding to welcoming death and bold proclamation of a risen savior is an odd shift to make simply on the basis of a lie or foggy notion. So it can be firmly established that the disciple believed that Jesus had risen from the dead, and believed that they had physically interacted with him following his resurrection.

[i] Disclaimer: While this is not by any means an exhaustive or even mildly in depth look into the argument from historical facts for the resurrection of Jesus, it does provide a brief overview. This overview of Dr. Habermas’ five minimal facts provides a starting point for anyone interested in seriously pursuing the research to grapple with and truly understand these facts and the evidence they provide for the veracity of the resurrection.

[1] Gary Habermas, “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity,” Southeastern Theological Review 3, no. 1 (Summer 2012): 15, Accessed November 19, 2014, http://www.galaxie.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/article/str03-1-02

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.

[3] Matt Slick, “Non biblical accounts of New Testament events and/or people,” Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, accessed November 19, 2014, http://carm.org/non-biblical-accounts-new-testament-events-and-or-people

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